Discover the Powerful
Images of Black History from the Ancient to the Modern
No images on this page may be
Joel A. Freeman, Ph.D.
The Freeman Institute
A N I N T R I G U I N G M Y S T E R Y
P I E C E ~~~~~
Y O U B
E T H E J U D G E
Is this a
long lost painting of the conductor of the
Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman?
the body structure
the facial features
the lips and chin
the nose and cheeks
19th Century painting of a corn-cob-pipe-smoking African American woman
who bears a
remarkable resemblance to the five-foot-tall "Moses" of the
Underground Railroad -- Harriet Tubman.
( more comparative photos of the real Harriet Tubman below )
large (18" wide x 24" tall), unsigned 19th century oil painting of an
American Slave woman, most likely painted during her life.
Though we are not experts on paintings we
feel this is realism.
Realists render everyday
characters, situations, dilemmas, and objects, all in a "true-to-life"
manner. Realists tend to discard theatrical drama, lofty subjects and
forms of art in favor of commonplace
themes. We are not sure who painted this woman, but we can see for certain
this portrait was meant to be very realistic.
In person, this artwork is
compelling, a viewer cannot help but feel the meaning in this work.
As you can see below, we
are intrigued by the similarities between this oil painting and the famous
Harriet Tubman. We researched artwork and famous women slaves of that era
in America and found many characteristics are shared between the woman in
the painting and Harriet herself.
Did Harriet Tubman smoke a pipe? This is an important question.
We do know that at one point Harriet was able to purchase a pair of oxen
for $40 and she hired herself out in the 1840s to plow fields and also to
cut and haul logs. She was one of the few women working in the forests on
a timber gang, if not the only one. Harriet worked right along side
men in these efforts. Her abilities and strength were so incredible that
often her white master would exhibit her feats of strength to his friends.
It appears that Tubman was proud of her physical strength and prowess.
Look at the arms of the woman in this painting. She is powerful!
It is well known that Harriet carried a pistol (sometimes a rifle) when
going on her rescue missions, leading people North to freedom.
We also know that Harriet 's mother, Rit, smoked a pipe. In her book,
Bound For the Promised Land,
Kate Clifford Larson chronicles Harriet's attempt to rescue her family
members in December 1854. She writes, "
Harriet had not seen her mother for over five years, but she could not
risk letting Rit know that her children were hiding but a few yards from
the cabin door, lest she cause such an uproar in her efforts to detain
them with her, that the whole plantation would have been alarmed...Through
the little window of the cabin, they saw the old woman sitting by
her fire with a pipe in her mouth, her head on her hand, rocking
back and forth as she did when she was in trouble, and wondering what new
evil had come to her children."
It is not a far stretch of one's
imagination that a pistol-packing, log-hauling Harriet smoked a pipe every
once in a while...just like her mother.
Large 19th Century painting (18" x
24") that experienced some water damage on the middle right-hand
side. The painting bears
a remarkable resemblance to Harriet Tubman.
Judge for yourself >>>>
of no pretensions, indeed, a more ordinary specimen of humanity
could hardly be found among the most unfortunate-looking farm hands
of the South. Yet, in point of courage, shrewdness and disinterested
exertions to rescue her fellow-men -- she was without her equal."
-- William Still
[ giclee' reproductions of this painting
on canvas are available ]
Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross; c. 1820 – March 10, 1913) was an
African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the
American Civil War.
After escaping from slavery,
into which she was born, she made 19 missions to Maryland to
rescue over 300 people using the network of antislavery activists
and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.
If anyone ever wanted to change his or her mind during the journey
to freedom and return, Tubman pulled out her revolver and
said, "You'll be free or you'll die a slave!"
The petite Tubman knew that if anyone turned back, it would put her
and the other escaping slaves in danger of discovery, capture or
even death. She became so well known for leading slaves to freedom
that Tubman became known as the "Moses of Her People." Many
slaves dreaming of freedom sang the spiritual "Go Down Moses."
Slaves hoped a savior would deliver them from slavery just as Moses
had delivered the Israelites from slavery. During these
dangerous journeys she helped rescue members of her own family,
including her 70-year-old parents. At one point, rewards for
Tubman's capture was a combined total of $40,000. Yet, she was
never captured and never failed to deliver her "passengers" to
safety. As Tubman herself said, "On my Underground Railroad I
[never] run my train off [the] track [and] I never [lost] a
One day, when she was an adolescent,
Tubman was sent to a dry-goods store for some supplies. There, she
encountered a slave owned by a different family, who had left the
fields without permission. His overseer, furious, demanded that
Tubman help restrain the young man. She refused, and as the slave
ran away, the overseer threw a two-pound weight from the store's
counter. It missed and struck Tubman instead, which she said
"broke my skull." She later explained her belief that her hair –
which "had never been combed and … stood out like a bushel basket"
– might have saved her life. Bleeding and unconscious, Tubman was
returned to her owner's house and laid on the seat of a loom,
where she remained without medical care for two days. She was
immediately sent back into the fields, "with blood and sweat
rolling down my face until I couldn't see." Her boss said she was
"not worth a sixpence" and returned her to Brodess, who tried
unsuccessfully to sell her. She began having seizures and would
seemingly fall unconscious, although she claimed to be aware of
her surroundings even though she appeared to be asleep.
These episodes were
alarming to her family who were unable to wake her when she fell
asleep suddenly and without warning. This condition remained with
Tubman for the rest of her life; Larson suggests she may have
suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy as a result of the injury.
This severe head wound occurred at a time in her life when Tubman
was becoming deeply religious. As an illiterate child, she had
been told Bible stories by her mother. The particular variety of
her early Christian belief remains unclear, but Tubman acquired a
passionate faith in God. She rejected white interpretations of
scripture urging slaves to be obedient, finding guidance in the
Old Testament tales of deliverance. After her brain trauma, Tubman
began experiencing visions and potent dreams, which she considered
signs from the divine. This religious perspective instructed her
throughout her life.
She later helped John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry,
and in the post-war era she retired to the family home in Auburn,
NY (sold to her by the abolitionist and US Senator, William H.
Seward for $1,200) and worked for women's suffrage.
(Read more about her connection with John Brown below)
Notice the length
of her fingers in the photo (above)
compared to the fingers in the painting.
Compare the bone structures of the two faces above.
Notice the petite size of her body & short stature
(5' tall) in the photo compared to the size/stature in the
Could this be a lost, genuine painting of the real Harriet Tubman?
We're not positive either way...
Even though there seems to be no historical record (that we can find) of
Harriet smoking a pipe,
in our minds, a "gun-toting Harriet" and a "corn-cob-pipe-smoking
Harriet" might go hand in hand.
V A R I A B L E S T O C O N S I D E R
A S Y O U C O M P A R E
1. The photograph is a frontal
shot and the painting is more of a 3/4 side view.
2. The photograph head shot is slightly larger than the other.
3. The person in one of the images might be older/younger than the other.
4. The artistic skills of the painter might not have captured the exact
features a photograph can capture.
[ Any ideas? If you can offer expert
advice, we will send you a number of other close-up photos of this
Dr. Joel Freeman's contact info is at the bottom of this page.
One Portrait Painter's
Perspective: Although I'm not qualified professionally to
appraise or attest to the authenticity of a piece of art, my opinion
as an artist is that this is, in fact, a painting of Harriet Tubman.
From my many years as a portrait artist I'd say that there are many
similarities between the painting and the photograph.
headscarf is tied over the ears in both images.
distance from the bottom of the scarf to the top of the eyebrows is
eyelids and the "look" in the eyes are the same.
4. The nose
is similar but the cheekbones are the same.
5. The slack
mouth and the "pouty" look are the same.
6. The lips
and the chin the same.
7. The short
neck and compact shoulders.
8. The look
of defiance is the same on both. This lady isn't afraid of
My professional, though humble, opinion as a portrait artist is that this
is one and the same person, one Harriet Tubman...
-- Leonard Freeman, artist
The painting itself is about 24" high x 18" wide. The large size of
the painting alone causes us to think that this was the portrayal of an
important or at least a compelling/intriguing person. This painting was
acquired from Arizona. The bronze colored frame is about 23 inches wide by
29 inches high. There is some writing on the back of the frame which looks
like F.E.D. Deutschbein...but quite hard to make out. On the front of the
painting there is a marking that has been painted over or rubbed out for
some reason that states "Annual..." and some other words but they are now
has a very old store sticker on the back of the frame which states "Gimbel
Brothers, 33rd St. and Broadway, New York, N.Y. with Picture Department
and the numbers 36025" which you can clearly see in the photos above.
Gimbels was the flagship of all Department stores at one time and started
out in 1887 but closed its doors not long ago in 1987 after 100 years of
service. The painting is done on canvas board (cardboard material covered
with canvas). Our research indicates that canvas boards were first
manufactured and commercially available in the 1870s.
-- O B S E R V A T I O N S:
As to the identity of the painter, we can not be sure.
Someone may be able to recognize this work, however we are not experts in
this field. The painting has no visible signature that we can see. We are
not sure whether this was painted by a German man or woman or perhaps even
a slave. The German word or name on the back would help us if we knew what
it meant or where it was from at one time. But we believe it has some
connection with Germany. The painting does look by all accounts to be much
older than the framing. Could the previous owner have brought the painting
from Germany to the United States to secure it just before World War II
broke out? Or did he/she bring it from the U.S. to Germany at that time?
These are questions that we would love to know the answers to and maybe
someone reading this can help. Was it in a Museum in Germany? We just
The framing is expensive by the standards of those days and
not done for just any typical oil painting and especially of an American
Slave. The nails and frame have some age to them also but we still
believe they are not as old as the painting and we do not believe this was
the original frame. Looking at the painting itself prompts us to believe
that it was re-framed at some time. The painting seems much older than the
frame but then again we just don't know for sure. We believe it is
very possible that the painting may have been re-framed at Gimbels a long
time ago. Also note that the antique sticker on the front of the frame
says "annual..." Why? Could it mean that this painting was in an
annual show (Museum or gallery?) long ago. So many questions but to us
this just makes it a more interesting piece.
In the oil painting, the colors have faded from time, through the many
years. A 19th century oil painting of a female slave in portrait style and
of this size is rare in itself. However if we are correct that this
woman is/may be the famous Harriet Tubman it would be a very valuable
piece of History. This is not a perfectly precise painting done by a
modern artist. The painter did not sign his/her name, which causes us to
wonder if the painter was another slave.
| Also, the piece seems to have been done more from the heart
than for photographic perfection. This is truly what makes this painting
special. In the photos of the Painting, we have included authentic
photographs of Miss Tubman. There are some very interesting similarities
to the photos of the real Harriet Tubman and the slave Woman in the
painting, so please take a close look at them all. Facial features seem to
be very similar, her hair covering, her expression, and more. She is
also sitting in a different position than in any other photograph we have
seen of Ms Tubman. She is very much seated for a Portrait. As you know,
painters paint what they see and if they are not masters, or paint in a
different method or style, the painting will not always be
photographically exact in every detail. This is a fascinating
painting of a slave woman, even if it is not Harriet Tubman it is still a
rare and special piece. We find her body shape to be very realistic and a
great type of Realism in itself. The muscular arms and fitness of the
woman is very realistic & not covered up by romanticism.
Dr. Freeman discussing the painting at a
US Department of Justice Black History Month event
Obviously the painter wanted us to see this woman for who she
was and also what her life was like in her past. The painter was trying to
show her strength. This leads one back to Harriet Tubman who was indeed a
very strong and influential women. What is also interesting is that the
slave woman is smoking an old hand made corn cob or wood pipe and this was
commonly done by African American women of the era. She is also wearing
typical clothes of an American Slave in rosy tones with a head wrap
(common to Tubman) and also an apron with ruffled blouse which was all
common slave wear back then. The painting was most likely brighter in the
1800's, but time has given it a unique beauty that only age can produce.
The realism is striking in this painting. Strong arms from working in
fields we suspect and weathering on her face from years of hard work. This
woman had to be a tough and the painting portrays that. If this is a
portrait of Ms Harriet Tubman, she had to be not only strong and fit but
very courageous to take slaves from masters in the mid 19th century.
Tubman knew the consequences if she were ever caught but (some say by the
blessing of God) it is true that of the hundreds of slaves she freed not
one was caught. Harriet worked as a union cook, scout and spy during the
Civil War and was commended for her bravery.
Of Harriet Tubman, the famed
heroine, who became known as "Moses," Frederick Douglass said, "Excepting
John Brown -- of sacred memory -- I know of no one who has willingly
encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than
[Harriet Tubman]." And John Brown once said that Harriet Tubman was "one
of the bravest persons on this continent."
Letter from Frederick
Douglass to Harriet Tubman
ROCHESTER, August 29, 1868
HARRIET: I am glad to know that the story of your eventful
life has been written by a kind lady, and that the same is soon to be
published. You ask for what you do not need when you call upon me for a
word of commendation. I need such words from you far more than you can
need them from me, especially where your superior labors and devotion to
the cause of the lately enslaved of our land are known as I know them. The
difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered
in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much
encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have
labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day—you in the night. I
have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of
being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has
been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and
women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt
“God bless you” has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the
silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of
your heroism. Excepting John Brown—of sacred memory—I know of no one
who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our
enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem
improbable to, those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a
great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony to your character
and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard
you in every way truthful and trustworthy.
Harriet Tubman's Connection with John Brown
A John Brown painting recently acquired by The Freeman
addition to her nickname "Moses," for her bravery Harriet was dubbed
"General" Tubman by the militant abolitionist John Brown, with whom she
worked in Canada.
In 1858, Tubman met with the
legendary freedom fighter, John Brown, in her North Street home in St.
Catharines, Ontario (Canada)
as he plotted a raid on
Harper's Ferry, Virginia. His plan was to raid the armory there,
distribute weapons among slaves and instigate a rebellion.
Brown was organizing for a rebellion that he believed would end slavery,
he consulted with Harriet. She supported his plans at Harper's Ferry,
helped raise funds in Canada, helped recruit soldiers and she intended to
be there to help him take the armory to supply guns to slaves who they
believed would rise up in rebellion against their enslavement. But she
became ill and was not at Harper's Ferry when John Brown's raid failed and
his supporters were killed or arrested. She mourned the death of her
friends in the raid, and continued to hold John Brown as a hero.
Even in one of her last
interviews, in 1912, she referred to John Brown as "my dearest friend."
On the morning of October 17, 1859,
Harriet Tubman was in New York having breakfast when she felt her heart
beating wildly. "Something's wrong," she told her friends. "Something
dreadful has happened, or is about to happen." Her friends insisted that
nothing could be wrong, but she could not shake the dreadful feeling.
"It's Captain Brown," she said, shivering. "Something is happening to
him. Something dreadful has happened to him." Later that same day, they
learned that Brown's men had seized the armory and arsenal at Harper's
Ferry, Virginia. The news later in the week confirmed Harriet's worst
fears. Brown and his men had been captured and would soon go on trial
for murder and treason. She followed John Brown's trial with great
interest, and had her friends read to her over and over again Brown's
final statement to Judge Parker until she could recite sections of it
from memory. After his execution, Harriet swore that she would perform
some great work in honor of Captain Brown.
She got her chance in May, 1862.
Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew arranged passage for her on board
the Atlantic going to Beaufort, one of the sea islands off South
Carolina. There she served as a nurse in an army hospital. In February,
1863, she was attached to Colonel James Montgomery's Second South
Carolina Volunteers as a scout. Although Montgomery came from a slave
state, he had moved to Kansas in the mid 1850s to fight for the Free
Soil party. The colonel met John Brown while fighting border ruffians
and pro-slavery men in that territory. On June 2, 1863, Montgomery led
his regiment on a daring raid down the Combahee River in an attempt to
clear the river of torpedoes and to run off slaves in large numbers.
With Harriet's help, Montgomery carried 750 slaves to freedom inside
Tubman's dreams and visions, misgivings and forewarnings, ought not to be
omitted in any life of her, particularly those relating to John Brown. She
was in his confidence in 1858-59, and he had a great regard for her, which
he often expressed to me. She aided him in his plans, and expected to do
so still further, when his career was closed by that wonderful campaign in
Virginia. The first time she came to my house, in Concord, after that
tragedy, she was shown into a room in the evening, where Brackett’s bust
of John Brown was standing. The sight of it, which was new to her, threw
her into a sort of ecstasy of sorrow and admiration, and she went on in
her rhapsodical way to pronounce his apotheosis." -- Extracts from a
Letter written by Mr. Sanborn, Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of
(giclee' reproductions of this John Brown painting
(below) on canvas are
19th Century painting acquired by
The Freeman Institute Black History Collection
J O H N B R O W N, T H E A B O L I T I O
N E R
Museum quality portrait of John Brown, the
famous abolitionist who fought to end slavery prior to the
outbreak of the civil war. The reverse of the painting has
the information "The Abolitioner, John Brown, born
1800 died 1859". The garland branch motif, at the
bottom of the painting, was often used in artwork of the mid
1800s. We are still researching the identity of the painter.
Here's what a John Brown author/researcher, Dr. John DeCaro,
wrote about this painting: "As
a biographer and scholar of Brown I can assure you that
there is no possibility that Brown sat for this
painting. Brown was a very progressive man and in the 1840s
and 1850s, he periodically sat for daguerreotype
portraits -- the early photograph. He never sat for a painted
portrait. Numerous paintings have been made of Brown, some
of them very well done based on daguerreotype portraits,
others inspired by those images. This painting was
apparently a rendering by someone who never saw Brown...the
hair and beard are stylized. It may have been done in
tribute to him by an admirer (perhaps a black artist?)...."
This painting is oil on wood board, measures 12" x 10"
unframed and 16" x 13" in its period frame. This is
unusual, rare subject matter.
We have fine art
canvas/varnished giclee' reproductions
of the John Brown image above (unframed, in stock) in three sizes
Click on sizes below to make your order
11" x 14" ($39)
16" x 20" ($59) 18" x 24" ($79)
Email us with your interest in quantities.
Dr. Joel A. Freeman is the keynote speaker at many
Black History presentations and cross-cultural competency
training events around the world. At the Black History Month event
(pictured above) in the Washington, DC region, many
stayed afterwards to review documents and artifacts from The Freeman Institute® Black History
For More Information:
for more specific info about Dr. Freeman's
History Presentation or
To Book this "Event"
Click on logo to review
The Freeman Institute Black History Collection
For a limited
time, Dr. Freeman is willing to be invited to your organization to present
a 90-minute or half-day program that will be remembered for years to come.
Ask how some of these items can be exhibited at
View The Genuine Documents/Artifacts.
Hear The Story Behind The Documents.
Feel The Passion.
This will be the event of the year. Period.
Preview an Online Diversity Course
->> FREE <<-
"A White Man's Journey Into Black History"®
The Freeman Institute™
Box 305, Gambrills, MD 21054
TEL 410-729-4011 FAX 410-729-0353
Joel A. Freeman, Ph.D.